Teaching Math: Probability Lessons and Teaching Strategies

Although children may have a basic understanding of probability, really mastering the intricacies will take some time. These three lessons can help you teach your child about probability in fun - and yummy - ways. Make sure you have paper and a pencil for each of these games.

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Lessons and Strategies for Teaching Probability

Illustrating the Basics with a Coin Toss

You need a pencil, a sheet of paper and two coins. Starting with a single coin, ask your child whether it's more likely to land on heads or tails when you toss it. Toss the coin and ask your child to record the result. Ask the question again and repeat the toss. Record the result again. Ask your child, 'How many times will it land on heads or tails if I toss the coin 10 times? What if I toss it 20 times?' Discuss the final results of the tosses.

You can also take turns tossing the coin or tossing it different ways and see whether your results are similar or different. To increase the complexity of the game and introduce different probabilities, add the second coin and toss both together, keeping track of each combination (heads-heads, heads-tails or tails-tails) and see if your child can figure out which combination is more likely and why. This game will help your child understand the concept of probability in a concrete way.

A Challenging Game of Dice

Draw a grid with eleven columns on a large sheet of paper and write the numbers 2-12 at the top of each column. Let your child throw a pair of dice a few times and ask him or her to write the number of each resulting die combination under the appropriate sum (e.g., a throw of two and three would go under the five, a throw of four and five under nine).

Use the die without throwing to illustrate the different possible combinations. How many different combinations can add to 12? What about two? Which combinations make eight? Help your child figure out all the possible ways to get each sum. Which sums have more potential combinations? Which have the least? What is the sum you are most likely to throw? Why?

A Sweet Game of Chance

In addition to the pencil and paper, you need a bowl and a round number of candy (let's say 20) in different colors. It can be any kind of sweets with different colors (M&Ms, Skittles, etc.), or you can use grapes and different berries as a healthy substitute for the candy.

Start by putting the candy on the table and asking your child to separate the different colors. Ask your child to write all the colors on the paper and then count how many of each color there are. Put all the candies in the bowl and pick one at random without letting your child see which color it is. Before showing it, ask your child what color he or she thinks it will be and why and then show the candy. Return the candy to the bowl and repeat the exercise and the question. You can repeat this several times and discuss the results.

To increase the level of difficulty, don't put the candy back in after you picked it out. After each round, ask your child how many candies there are left and which have the best and worst chances of getting picked. You can do several rounds of this to explore how the probabilities change. Remember to reward your kid for a job well done!

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